‘And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ Rev.22.2.
Those of us who have been to the Holy Land – or the land of the Holy One, as many of us now describe it – can never forget it. This is as it should be. We should never forget it. Why? Not only because it is the land where God chose to become human, and lived and died and rose again, not only because of the ancient stones which witnessed our salvation history. Nor only because it was the land of the first living stones, the first followers of Christ but also, and crucially, because of our brothers and sisters in Christ now living there. Our family. For me, personally, I cannot forget not only because of the many occasions I have been privileged to visit our family but also because whenever I look at my right hand,
I see an episcopal ring that was created and engraved for me by a jeweller in Ramallah whom I visited with Bishop Suheil in 2007. This was just a few days after I and some others visited the Arab Evangelical school in Ramallah. We were invited to plant sapling olive trees in the grounds around the school. The scripture that was hung around the olive tree I planted was: ‘And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’ There is, perhaps, no scripture more pertinent for the land of the Holy One and the peoples who live there today. When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122.6), it is surely this for which we pray, salaam, shalom, peace. We pray for the healing of the nations.
In medieval maps, notably the Mappa Mundi, Jerusalem is placed at the centre of the world. Similarly, in early Jewish writings, for example the Book of Jubilees, Jerusalem has been described as the ‘navel’ of the earth. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was seen (and perhaps still can be?) as the spiritual and cosmological centre of the world. Many would agree today that in many respects, Jerusalem is a microcosm of the tensions, divisions and conflicts of the wider world. In the light of this, Archbishop Hosam says ‘If peace is possible in Jerusalem, peace will be possible across the world’. Jerusalem, it is clear, matters to God. Jesus weeps over the city saying ’If only you had known this day the things that make for peace.’ (Luke 19.42). And so we must never forget and we continue to pray for the city of peace in the land of the Holy Land. Our destiny as humanity is wrapped up in it.
And yet in the midst of the (currently escalating) tensions and conflicts, it has been and continues to be a place where heaven touches earth, a place of faith and hope and love, a place where there are so many inspiring examples of those reaching out and crossing the boundaries of faith, of culture, of ethnicity working for peace and reconciliation and expressing what is possible in God’s good purposes. There are those who, following Christ, in the manner of the Tent of Nations, ‘refuse to be enemies’.
The enemy of the healing of the nations is tribalism – the ‘othering’ and judging those who are different – and religious tribalism can be the worst of all. It exists within faiths and it exists between faiths. The challenge for Christians in the land of the Holy One and in all lands is to live out and express that the God who is with us and for us is at the same time the God who is with and for the whole of humanity. This was a huge learning curve for those first (Jewish) Christians, not least St Peter and St Paul. Paul writes ‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Eph. 3.14). The divine trajectory in which we as Christians participate is fulfilled when ‘God shall be all in all’ (1 Cor.15.28) and ‘the Kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God’ (Rev.11.15). In the midst of alarming headlines of raised tensions and acts of violence, in and around Jerusalem, there are so many signs of the kingdom, unheralded in the media, where Christians are living out the call to reconciliation in the midst of many insecurities. St Paul, in his writings, emphasized the need for solidarity amongst Christians across all cultural and ethnic divides. ‘When one suffers, all suffer’ (1 Cor.12.26). Friends of the Holy Land offers us a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate this solidarity in Christ with our brothers and sisters in the land of the Holy One, through prayer, through pilgrimage, through giving. So, no matter what the media headlines may tell us, let us continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the healing of the nations in faith and hope and love.
+ John Stroyan
To find out more about the work of Friends of the Holy Land, please visit www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk